The Baby Bonus in Singapore: A Brief Empirical Study - Cheng Xun CHUA Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences

The Baby Bonus in Singapore: A Brief Empirical Study

                      Cheng Xun CHUA
          Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences
                    Northwestern University
          Advisor: Associate Professor Matthias Doepke


        This piece of work would not have been possible without the advice, encouragement

and insight of my thesis advisor, Professor Matthias Doepke of the Economics Department.

Professor Doepke has been a constant source of inspiration and perspective throughout the

thesis-writing process, and I have benefited greatly from having worked with him.

        My sincere gratitude goes out to Tim Lin, our intelligent, tireless and dedicated

teaching assistant who has been a great help with the data manipulation and econometric

analysis for this thesis.

        Special thanks to Sarah Muir our MMSS program assistant, who has never been too

busy to chat or help me out whenever I needed something these past 3 years.

        Thanks are due too to all the professors of the MMSS program: Professors Clark

Robinson, Eric Schulz, Bill Rogerson, Bård Harstad, Robert Porter, Elie Tamer, Aviv Nevo,

Jamie Druckman and Joe Ferrie. Their teachings and guidance have made this piece of work


        Heartfelt thanks go out as well to all the friends I’ve made in the last 3 years both

within the MMSS program and outside of it that have made the program and my

Northwestern experience such an enjoyable and unforgettable one.

        Last but not least, thank you to my family and friends back home in Singapore. Their

constant support, care and encouragement have made me the person I am today, and I will

always be indebted to them for that.


        Many developed countries face the challenge of rapidly decreasing fertility rates.

Various approaches have been taken to try to reverse this trend, with limited success in most

scenarios. This is a situation that Singapore faces as well. The Singapore government, known

for its pragmatic approach and micro-management of every aspect of Singaporean society,

has been attempting for the last 20 years to arrest the steep decline in fertility rates that the

nation-state has experienced. The latest, most comprehensive and most significant policy to

this end is the Baby Bonus Scheme, first implemented in 2001, then further enhanced and

expanded in 2004 and 2008.

        This paper argues that this latest initiative by the Singaporean government is unlikely

to have significant impact on fertility rates in Singapore, and estimates via quantitative

analysis that the Baby Bonus Scheme generally has a slightly positive but statistically

insignificant impact on the fertility rates of the nation-state.

Contents Page

I.     Acknowledgements                                         1

II.    Abstract                                                 2

III.   Contents                                                 3

IV.    Introduction                                             4

V.     Singapore Demographic Trends and Patterns                6

VI.    History of Singapore’s Population Policies               10

VII.   Literature Review                                        17

VIII. Theoretical Argument and Hypothesis                       24

IX.    Framework of Empirical Study and Data                    29

X.     Findings                                                 34

XI.    Conclusions, Caveats and Suggestions for Further Study   41

XII.   References                                               44


       The Singapore government is known for its pragmatism and paternalism. An overt

democracy that has been over-whelmingly dominated by a single political party since the

nation’s founding, Singapore’s system of government has been described as a benevolent

dictatorship. The leadership of the country has a penchant for utilizing a carrot-and-stick

approach to shaping the social behavior of its citizens, not least in the area of fertility

decisions and population control.

       The government’s population policies have been categorized into three main phases

(Wong & Yeoh, 2003): the anti-natalist phase (1966-1982); the “eugenics” period (1983-

1987); and the pro-natalist phase (1987-current). While the policies of each phase warrant

further study, this paper will focus mainly on attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of the

Children Development Co-Savings or “Baby Bonus” Scheme, implemented as part of the

pro-natalist drive and designed to lighten the financial burden of raising children in

Singapore. This initiative was first implemented in April 2001, enhanced in August 2004 and

again in August 2008 (, 2008).

       The Baby Bonus Scheme is a two-tiered scheme, comprising of a direct cash gift

from the government and a co-saving arrangement in which the government matches dollar

for dollar the amount parents put into a Child Development Account (CDA), subject to a

maximum amount. The birth order covered under the scheme and the maximum value of

each component varied with each new rendition of the scheme. Refer to Table 1 for details.

Table 1: Total Benefits per Child (S$) under Baby Bonus Scheme, by Birth Order*

                                  Cash Gift from Maximum Matching Govt.
                    Birth Order                                                              Total
                                   Government      Contribution to CDA
  Apr '01             Second         $3,000              $6,000                           Up to $9,000
  Scheme                Third        $6,000              $12,000                          Up to $18,000
                        First        $3,000                  -                            Up to $3,000
  Aug '04
                      Second         $3,000               $6,000                          Up to $9,000
                  Third & Fourth     $6,000              $12,000                          Up to $18,000
                  First & Second     $4,000               $6,000                          Up to $10,000
  Aug '08
                  Third & Fourth     $6,000              $12,000                          Up to $18,000
                 Fifth and Beyond       -                $18,000                          Up to $18,000

* More details on the 2001 and 2004 iterations of the scheme can be found in Tables 3-5

           It can be observed that having a second or third child brought parents significant

monetary rewards from 2001 onwards, while having a first or fourth child only did so from

2004 onwards, and a fifth child only from August 2008. This provides an opportunity to

study the impact of the Baby Bonus Scheme on children of different birth orders.

           While several key studies have been done to better understand the Singaporean

population policies and to study the effectiveness of pro-natalist policies in Singapore on

boosting total fertility rates (TFR) (Drakakis-Smith et al, 1993; Teo & Yeoh, 1999; Graham

et al, 2002; Wong & Yeoh, 2003; Park, 2005 etc), I intend to contribute to the body of

knowledge already available by focusing on the impact of the Baby Bonus Scheme on total

fertility rates, as well as fertility rates for the first through fourth birth order, as opposed to

just on the aggregate. This allows for a more pointed assessment of the scheme’s

effectiveness for each birth order. I will also focus exclusively on the Baby Bonus Scheme.

(Park for example only focuses on Qualified Child Tax Relief (QCR) as a proxy for

government efforts to influence population trends.) I will also include in my regression

several variables that have not been included in previous studies, thus hopefully providing a

more well-specified and accurate model. I will in addition manipulate the combination of

variables I use in my regressions to attempt to shed new insight on the issue.

The paper proceeds as follows: As background for my study, in the first part of my

paper I will describe the demographic trends and patterns observed in Singapore since its

independence in 1965, and provide an analysis of the population policies that the Singapore

government has enacted through the years. In the next part I will conduct a literature review

of some of the research that has been done in this area previously. The third part of my paper

will state my hypothesis on the effectiveness of the Baby Bonus Scheme, together with

theoretical justifications for my stance and the relevance of the variables I incorporate. The

last segment will be a quantitative study attempting to estimate the direction and significance

of the Baby Bonus Scheme.

Singapore Demographic Trends and Patterns

       Singapore’s population and total fertility rate has changed drastically since the post

Second World War baby boom. When Singapore was first founded by Sir Stanford Raffles in

1819 it was reported that the island had a total population of only 150 people. Since then, as

Singapore grew to become an important trading hub and a major colony in the east for the

British, immigration from China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East grew rapidly,

contributing to Singapore’s population increase. After Singapore emerged from the Second

World War it experienced a sustained post-war baby boom period that continued till the mid-

1960s. The TFR hit over 6 children per woman in the late 1950s. Over-crowding of the little

island of Singapore became a big concern, and for the first time, in 1966, the government got

involved in programs and policies to influence population trends.

       Refer to Graph 1 below for an overview of the trends in total fertility rates in

Singapore from 1960 to 2007.

Graph 1: Total Fertility Rate (TFR) per Woman in Singapore, 1960 – 2007
















               Since the peak in the 1950s the TFR of Singapore has gradually declined. It fell to

approximately 4.5 children per woman in 1965, when Singapore first gained independence,

and has continued on a downward trend since then. This was likely aided by Singapore’s

rapid economic growth, increasing affluence, better educated population and the successful

national family planning program implemented after independence to keep Singapore’s

population in check. Since 1975 the TFR has fluctuated below the replacement TFR of

approximately 2.1. There was a slight spike in 1988 possibly due to new pro-natalist policies

implemented by the government as well as the fact that 1988 was an auspicious year, being

both the year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac and comprising the number “88”, which is

a symbol for double prosperity in several Chinese dialect groups. 1988 was also the year

when the country began recovering from a recession in the mid 1980s.

          The pro-natalist policies implemented in the late 1980s appear to have limited effect

on TFR at first sight, considering that the TFR continued to steadily decline after 1988.

While it is true that TFR has declined substantially, I will argue in this paper that a

confluence of factors have an impact on fertility decisions among Singaporeans, and that the

fact that TFR continues to decline does not necessarily imply that the pro-natalist policies of

the government are ineffective. As of 2008, Singapore had a population of 4.6 million people

and a TFR of about 1.3 children born/woman, making it according to United Nations and

CIA estimates a country with one of the lowest total fertility rates worldwide.

       The population of Singapore is a multi-ethnic one, with about 77% of the population

Chinese, 14% Malay, and 8% Indian (South Asian), with the last 1% being of other

ethnicities. It is worth noting that these 3 major ethnic groups have different fertility rates and

socioeconomic conditions. Based on statistics, the Chinese have the highest median income,

followed by that of the Indians and then the Malays. The Malays however have the highest

fertility rates, followed by the Indians and then the Chinese. As of 2003, the fertility rate

among the Chinese, Malays and Indians is 0.98, 2.17 and 1.45 respectively. This situation has

created some complexity for the government in their population planning. The Chinese, the

majority of the population, have the highest income and yet have the lowest fertility rates.

This means, ceteris paribus, that the Chinese will be more difficult to motivate via monetary

incentives, since Chinese families tend to be more affluent, and the extra funding from the

government may not have much impact on their fertility decisions. The converse is true for

the Malays in the population. They are more likely to be motivated by monetary incentives

from the government, being the least affluent of the major ethnic groups, but with an already

relatively higher fertility rate the Malays too are unlikely to be very motivated to have even

more children. There is also the consideration of the long-term impact of encouraging the

least affluent ethnic group to have more offspring. Refer to Table 2 for more details

regarding the total fertility rates for the three main races of Singapore: the Chinese, the

Malays and the Indians.

Table 2: Total Fertility Rates (TFR) for Chinese, Malays and Indians, 1975 – 2003

                                                                Change (%)
         Year      Chinese     Malays     Indians
                                                      Chinese     Malays   Indians
         1975        2.07       2.14        1.96           -         -         -
         1980        1.66       2.04        1.93       -19.8%     -4.7%     -1.5%
         1985        1.50       2.11        1.94        -9.6%      3.4%      0.5%
         1990        1.67       2.70        1.93       11.3%      28.0%     -0.5%
         1995        1.53       2.53        1.75        -8.4%     -6.3%     -9.3%
         2000        1.45       2.45        1.62        -5.2%     -3.2%     -7.4%
         2001        1.22       2.48        1.61       -15.9%      1.2%     -0.6%
         2002        1.20       2.33        1.61        -1.6%     -6.0%      0.0%
         2003        0.98       2.17        1.45       -18.3%     -6.9%     -9.9%

       In a similar vein, the fertility rates among groups with different levels of education

vary significantly. Based on 2000 numbers, the average number of children born to a

Singaporean woman decreases as her education level increases. Correspondingly, well-

educated individuals are more likely to remain single and bear children only at a later age,

compared to their less-educated peers. Given the significant research that demonstrates the

correlation between the education level of parents and their offspring (Atkinson, 1981;

Dearden et al., 1997; Ermisch and Francesconi, 2001), it is a concern to government officials

that the “quality” of the population is decreasing with each generation.

       To deal with the rapidly decreasing fertility rates of Singaporeans and the perceived

lowering of “quality”, the government has made immigration to Singapore much easier for

skilled and well-educated foreigners. These individuals help to make up for the shortfall in

the labor force and low birth rates of the population, and are often encouraged to take up

permanent residency and even citizenship. In addition to these skilled workers, a growing

number of unskilled and lowly-educated foreigners have taken up jobs in Singapore that

many local Singaporeans prefer not to do. These include low-skilled, dirty and oftentimes

dangerous jobs as domestic helpers, cleaners or construction workers for example. These

workers however are not encouraged or eligible, except in rare circumstances, to attain

citizenship or permanent residence in Singapore. The influx of these skilled and unskilled

foreigners has changed the composition of the population. Whereas in 1980 over 94% of the

population were residents, this number dropped in 1990 to about 90%, and then to about 81%

in 2000, holding steady at that rate as of 2006. While the openness to foreigners has helped

alleviate the problem of a shrinking labor force, this policy has created some social issues

and unhappiness among local Singaporeans who accuse the government of taking care of the

interests of foreigners ahead of those of Singaporeans. For these reasons, the government still

finds it imperative to focus on increasing the fertility rate of the population.

History of Singapore’s Population Policies

        The Singapore government has a history of implementing policies to influence and

shape social behavior, not least in the area of population policies. While organizations and

initiatives that try to influence population trends have existed since the end of the Second

World War, the government refused to play an active role in influencing fertility decisions

until January 1966 when the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board was


Anti-Natalist Period (1966 – 1982)

        As noted, the government initially got involved in order to control the size of the

population, which exploded due to a sustained post-war baby boom that Singapore

experienced. This was a different problem from that which Singapore currently faces. As a

relatively backward country with a poorly educated population, high infant mortality rates

and little or no education on or access to family planning resources, it is no surprise that

fertility rates were relatively high at that point.

                                                - 10 -
The government took several drastic and controversial steps to control the population

boom. As mentioned, the government established the Singapore Family Planning and

Population Board (SFPPB) to promote the benefits of family planning and the use of

contraceptives. This was a first for the conservative Singaporean society, but the initiative

was widely supported. Against significant opposition, the Abortion Act came into force in

1970, legalizing induced abortions for the first time. This was done in part to help control the

rate of population expansion, but also to put an end to illegal and dangerous “back alley”

abortions that were going on. The government legalized voluntary sterilization the same year

that the Abortion Act came into force. This was supplanted by an even more liberal new

Voluntary Sterilization Act that was implemented in 1974, allowing almost anyone who

wanted to be sterilized to undergo the medical procedure. This too was done in the hope that,

in conjunction with the promotion of family planning and the use of contraceptives, the

population would begin to stabilize.

       Throughout the 1970s, the government took further steps to attempt to reduce the

fertility rates and rapid population growth. In 1972 the government announced several policy

changes relating to income taxes, education, maternity leave and public housing that were

meant to encourage Singaporeans via incentives and disincentives to have only 1 or 2

children. Incentives include priority in primary (elementary) school registration for the first

and second child, as well as subsidized delivery charges for first and second births. Some of

the disincentives include higher charges for delivering the third and subsequent children of

couples, and the reduction in maternity leave benefits for the third child and beyond. These

measures were refined and intensified throughout the decade. The aim of these various

policies of the 1970s is perhaps best summed up by the advertising campaigns initiated by

the SFPPB: Stop at two (children).

                                             - 11 -
While it is debatable whether the anti-natalist policies of the government from after

the Second World War till the 1970s were effective, the population growth did slow down

drastically. The total number of births each year decreased almost yearly from 1965 till 1977,

and the total fertility rate fell from a peak of over 6 in the mid 1950s to 3.0 in 1970 and 1.89

in 1977, below the replacement rate of around 2.1. Some of the other causes proposed for this

drop in fertility include the increase in the proportion of women in the workforce and the

corresponding later marrying and child-bearing age of Singaporean women, the higher

education level of the population, as well as the higher standard of living and the

corresponding increase in economic and opportunity cost of raising a child. Whatever the

reasons were, the population explosion was tamed, the TFR decreased significantly, and a

new problem of a very different nature emerged: the risk of a dwindling population,

especially among the better educated segments of the population.

Eugenics Period (1983 – 1986)

       The government first expressed their concern about the lowering TFR among well-

educated women in 1983, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew observed the lopsided

pattern of procreation among Singaporeans, with well-educated women bearing much fewer

children compared to their less-educated peers. He cited research that showed the importance

of nature and genetics in determining the intelligence of an individual, and voiced his worry

that the “quality” of the Singaporean population would be adversely affected by these trends.

The 1980s thus ushered in a period of new population policies that aimed at increasing the

fertility rates of Singaporeans, particularly those of well-educated women.

       Some of the policies introduced during the mid 1980s include the establishment of the

Social Development Unit (SDU), tasked by the government to match-make college graduates

to each other. More controversially, the government introduced several overtly eugenic

                                             - 12 -
measures, including the provision of cash incentives to less-educated individuals to undergo

sterilization, and reduced subsidies for delivery charges of children of less-educated parents.

       Because the Chinese were generally better educated and the Malays the least educated,

many deemed these policies as racial discrimination, aimed at preventing the proportion of

Chinese in the population from dwindling, relative to the Indians and Malays in particular.

This was a highly unpopular move among Singaporeans, and possibly contributed to the

significant reduction in votes garnered by the ruling party in the 1984 general elections.

These policies were also deemed a failure by the government, since they did little to increase

the fertility rates of the well-educated, likely due to the limited impact monetary incentives

have on these more affluent, well-educated segments of the population. The government

recognized the unpopularity of these measures, and took steps to firstly reduce emphasis on

some of these eugenic policies and secondly, transition into a period of pro-natalist policies

aimed at increasing the fertility rates of the entire population, regardless of education level.

Pro-Natalist Period (1987 – present)

       In 1987 the government began relaxing some of the anti-natalist policies implemented

in the 1960s and 1970s. These include implementing mandatory counseling before abortions

are carried out, changing the laws regarding public housing to make it easier for young

couples to gain access to public housing, as well as amending the Employment Act to

improve benefits for mothers on maternity leave.

       This new direction in policy, termed the New Population Policy (NPP) by Wong and

Yeoh (2003), was accompanied by a slew of advertising campaigns emphasizing the

importance of starting a family and having multiple children to a successful and well-

rounded life. A new slogan was propagated to reflect this change in perception: Have three or

more children if you can afford it. New pro-natalist policies were implemented, including the

                                              - 13 -
focus of this paper: the Baby Bonus Scheme that was implemented in 2001. Other pro-

natalist policies implemented in the early 2000s include extra paid maternity leave, reduced

cost of public housing for large families, subsidized infant care facilities, and funds that

provided subsidies and monetary incentives for working mothers. This last policy in

particular reflected the constant struggle the government faced with wanting to encourage

both higher fertility rates and a larger proportion of women joining the work force.

       In 2004, the government implemented further measures to encourage higher TFR and

better family life. This package, termed by Saw (2005) as by far the most comprehensive

pro-natalist measure the government had ever implemented, sought to address three key

issues: allowing working parents more time to spend with their children and to strike a better

balance between work and family life; relaxing pro-natalist policies to benefit more parents

with lower education levels; and increasing the range of services available to parents to help

lighten the cost and effort of raising a child. In particular, the Baby Bonus Scheme first

implemented in 2001 was enhanced to include children of the first and fourth birth order. A

committee was also established to ensure that no family was worse off under these new

policies. Some of the new policies include lower levies for the hiring of domestic workers,

the implementation of five-day work weeks in the civil service, and benefits for grandparents

who help with the raising of young children. These new pro-natalist policies have generally

been well-received by the public, though Saw contends that they could be further widened

and enhanced to make them even more effective.

       The effectiveness of these new pro-natalist policies is debatable. The TFR has

continued to steadily decline throughout the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, despite these

new policies. While it remains to be seen whether the new enhancements implemented in

2004 will have positive effects on TFR in future, the initial signs are not particularly positive.

                                              - 14 -
Baby Bonus Policy (2001 – present)

                  The main subject of this paper will be the Baby Bonus Scheme. This scheme was first

implemented in 2001, with benefits accrued to parents bearing a second or third child born

after April 1 2001. The scheme entails a two-tier payment given annually by the government

to eligible parents for a period of six years after the birth of the child. The first tier consists of

a cash gift, while in the second tier the government matches dollar-for-dollar the amount of

savings placed by the parents in a special co-savings account, the Children Development

Account (CDA) that is to be used solely for the benefit of the child. The magnitude of the

cash gift and the cap on government contribution to this co-saving account varies, depending

on the birth order of the child. Details of this initial scheme are detailed below in Table 3.

Table 3: Details of 2001 Baby Bonus Scheme (S$)*

                                     First Tier           Second Tier (Maximum Cap)
                                                                                                      Total Possible
                          Year         Govt.               Parent's        Govt.
                                                                                                     Govt. Contribution
                                    Contribution         Contribution Contribution
                       First            500                  1000          1000                               1500
        Second Child

                       Second           500                  1000           1000                               1500
                       Third            500                  1000           1000                              1500
                       Fourth           500                  1000          1000                                1500
                       Fifth            500                  1000          1000                               1500
                       Sixth            500                  1000           1000                               1500
                       TOTAL           3000                  6000           6000                               9000
                       First           1000                  2000          2000                               3000
                       Second          1000                  2000           2000                               3000
        Third Child

                       Third           1000                  2000           2000                              3000
                       Fourth          1000                  2000          2000                                3000
                       Fifth           1000                  2000          2000                               3000
                       Sixth           1000                  2000           2000                               3000
                       TOTAL           6000                 12000          12000                              18000

* To provide some perspective on these numbers, note that in 2001 US$1 was approximately equivalent to S$0.55, and that the 2001 GDP
per resident was approximately S$47,000.

                  To be eligible as a beneficiary under this scheme, the mother has to be legally married

to the child’s father at the time of the child’s birth, the child must be a Singaporean citizen,

and the child has to be the second or third child born alive to the mother. Adopted or step

children are not eligible under the scheme, and cannot be counted in determining the birth

                                                              - 15 -
order of a child. Multiple births at the same time are considered separate births in the

determination of birth order.

          As mentioned, the Baby Bonus Scheme was enhanced in 2004 to include the first and

fourth child born on or after 1 August 2004. Under the new enhanced scheme, the cash gift

that parents receive from the government was increased for the first through fourth born child,

as was the cap of government contribution to the CDA. The first born child however received

no benefits under the co-saving scheme. Under the 2004 scheme cash gifts were disbursed

sooner, within the first 18 months, instead of the original 6 years. The rules regarding

eligibility were not altered. Details of this new scheme are included in the following tables.

     Table 4: Cash Gift Schedule,                                Table 5: Max Govt. Contribution to CDA
     2004 Baby Bonus Scheme (S$)*                                Schedule, 2004 Baby Bonus Scheme (S$)*
                                  Birth Order                                                 Birth Order
      Age of Child         First and     Third and                Age of Child                        Third and
                            Second         Fourth                                       Second         Fourth
      3 weeks                 750           1,500                1 year                  1,000          2,000
      6 months                750           1,500                1 years                 1,000          2,000
      12 months               750           1,500                3 years                 1,000          2,000
      18 months               750           1,500                4 years                 1,000          2,000
      TOTAL                  3,000          6,000                5 years                 1,000          2,000
                                                                 6 years                 1,000          2,000
                                                                 TOTAL                   6,000         12,000

* To provide some perspective on these numbers, note that in 2004 US$1 was approximately equivalent to S$0.6, and that the 2004 GDP
per resident was approximately S$54,000.

          New enhancements to the scheme were implemented in August 2008. For children

born on or after 17 August 2008, parents are eligible to receive a cash gift of up to $4,000

each for the first and second child and $6,000 each for the third and fourth child, an increase

from the previous iteration of the scheme. The co-saving scheme was also extended to the

fifth and subsequent child, with a government contribution capped at $18,000, and all

payments made a month after the contribution is put down, instead of only once annually.

Due to the limited period of time that has elapsed since the implementation of this latest

                                                             - 16 -
alteration to the scheme, the scope of this paper will not cover the effects of the third iteration

of the scheme.


       In conclusion, the government went through three major phases in its population

policies: the anti-natalist phase from 1966 to 1982, the eugenics phase from 1983 to 1986,

and the pro-natalist phase that has been in place since 1987. These policies were

implemented in response to the population situation of that era, and have altered as the

situation evolved. It should be observed that while the government has been actively

involved in trying to chart the population trends of Singapore, they have had limited efficacy

at times, and have never implemented draconian, coercive measures, instead depending on

monetary incentives and disincentives, campaigns and policy alterations to attempt to

influence population trends. The most recent and significant pro-natalist policy, the Baby

Bonus Scheme, will be the main subject of this paper. I will attempt to study and document

the effectiveness and impact of this scheme, though certainly the effects of this recent policy

change may only begin to have a significant impact in the years to come.

Literature Review

       A review of some of the studies done that are relevant to my topic can be divided

broadly into two categories: studies done specific to Singapore that attempt to measure the

effectiveness and impact of pro-natalist policies in Singapore, as well as landmark studies not

specific to Singapore, done with reference to a particular country or across various countries.

Singapore Studies

       A study did by Teo and Yeoh in 1999 focused on a qualitative approach to the

problem. They surveyed several hundred Singaporeans that represented an approximate cross

                                              - 17 -
section of Singapore society to gauge their feelings and responses to the new pro-natalist

policies that the government began enacting from the mid to late 1980s. They found that

while Singaporeans were familiar with the new policies and were clearly motivated by the

various pecuniary and non-pecuniary incentives implemented, they still made decisions

regarding the number of children to have based on private preferences. They concluded that

Singaporeans agree with the need for more children on a societal level, but are unlikely to

change personal fertility decisions based on government intervention.

       This conclusion is in line with a study done in 1993 by Drakakis-Smith et al

(including Teo and Graham), who found through surveys conducted in 1992 that families

expected little positive impact of pro-natalist government policies on their fertility decisions.

       The study done by Graham et al in 2002 found that incentives provided by

government pro-natalist policies do not feature prominently in the fertility decisions of many

Singaporean women, especially well-educated ones. This study however was a qualitative

one based almost exclusively on in-depth interviews of only 8 Singaporean women with

college degrees, and focused more on the impact of traditional values on fertility decisions

among Singaporean women, than on the population policies per se.

       The study done by Wong and Yeoh in 2003 gave a very good overview of the

population policies implemented in Singapore since her independence. It described the anti-

natalist policies from 1966 to 1982 that demonstrated dramatic success at controlling the

booming Singaporean population, the “eugenics” period from 1983 to 1987 that

controversially focused on getting well-educated couples to create more offspring while

discouraging less-educated couples from doing so, as well as the current pro-natalist policies

which were first implemented in 1987 that focuses on increasing Singapore’s fertility rate,

regardless of the education background of parents. This study, while not directly

                                              - 18 -
investigating the effects of the pro-natalist policies, provides an eloquent discussion of the

challenges of successfully increasing fertility rates, specifically in the Singapore context.

       Perhaps the only recent study that focused on a quantitative approach to evaluating

Singapore’s population policies was the one done by Park in 2005. Park first estimated the

Qualified Child Tax Relief (QCR) for each birth order (first to fourth) from 1973 to 1999. He

then estimated the marginal effect of QCR for each birth order on Singapore’s total fertility

rate (TFR), using QCR as a proxy for the value to individual households of the population

policies of Singapore. He also included a dummy variable to indicate when the Singapore

government first began their pro-natalist phase, to offset for the possible effect on fertility

rates of these other pro-natalist policies. Park used QCR because it was the oldest and most

general policy implemented, affecting all individuals. Using QCR also provided more data

and reduced the problem of selectivity. Park conducted regressions with various

specifications, using TFR as the dependent variable and the following independent variables:

men’s earnings, women’s earnings, infant mortality rate, unemployment rate and QCR, with

dummy variables for 1987 onwards (when pro-natalist policies began) and the dragon year,

as well as a time-trend variable. He used annual data from 1973 to 1999, and did separate

regressions on TFR with QCR of first to fourth birth orders, with various models of

regression that encompassed different lag periods and variables. Park noted that there is

strong evidence to suggest that a child in Singapore is a normal good, since fertility rates are

positively correlated with earnings and employment rates. He noted however that there is a

negative correlation between female earnings and fertility rates. Park also concluded that his

results strongly suggest that Singaporean families do respond positively to pro-natalist

policies, but only to a limited extent. A 1% increase in the QCR was estimated to increase the

total fertility rates by only 0.1 to 0.2%. I draw extensively on Park’s research for my own

                                              - 19 -
study, but include several different approaches. Unlike in Park’s study which only had

fertility rates at an aggregate level, I have data specific to the number of children born each

year by birth order. Because the Baby Bonus Scheme benefits babies of different birth orders

by differing amounts at different times, I will be able to study the specific impact of pro-

natalist policies by birth order more closely, rather than just at an aggregate level. The use of

many independent variables for such a small set of data is also a problem both Park and I

face; in mitigation of that problem I will conduct regressions using a smaller number of

independent variables to study the effect of the Baby Bonus Scheme; if the results prove

similar to other regression models, that would add to the confidence and robustness of my


       An excellent study that described and qualitatively analyzed many of the major

population policies enacted by the Singaporean government is the book Population Policies

and Programmes in Singapore by Saw Swee-Hock of the Institute of Southeast Asian

Studies in Singapore. I use this study as the main basis of my overview of the major

population policies enacted in Singapore.

Other Studies

       A seminal study done by Becker in 1960 attempted to look at fertility decisions from

a purely economic perspective, using the theory of demand for consumer durables as a

framework within which to analyze the demand for babies. Becker tried to derive a utility

function of children, taking into consideration the “quality” of children (amount to be spent

on raising a child), personal preferences, income and cost. Becker also analyzed how

decisions regarding fertility vary based on education level and income of couples. While

somewhat outdated, this study was one of the earliest to attempt a quantitative approach to

dealing with the issue of fertility decisions. Like many other researchers before me, I will

                                             - 20 -
draw significantly from Becker’s economic analysis of fertility to provide the basis of my

theoretical argument and hypothesis regarding the efficacy of the Baby Bonus Scheme.

        A study done by Paul Demeny in 1986 provided an overview of why there is a

perceived need among governments to enact population policies, what some of the methods

that have been used are, and whether these methods have been effective. Demeny did

significant research into papers written on the topic, and found that the consensus that is

appearing, regardless of country, is that many pro-natalist policies have no or negligible

impacts on fertility rates.

        Buttner and Lutz in 1990 studied the effects on former East Germany’s fertility rates

of the liberalization of abortion in 1972 and expansion of maternity leave period and benefits

in 1976. They examined the effect on fertility rates of different birth orders, using data from

1964 to 1987. They found that while there is limited effect of these policies on first births,

births of higher birth orders are significantly affected. The study of impact on different birth

orders is one that I will also adopt in my study.

        One of the leading researchers of fertility and pro-natalist policies, Leslie Whittington,

conducted a study in 1990 that estimated the effect of personal exemption granted to

taxpayers on the general fertility rate of the United States. They used annual data from 1913

to 1984 and controlled for male income, unemployment rate, infant mortality rate, the

proportion of immigrants among women of child-bearing age, average female wage and

education, availability of contraceptive pills, time trend, and the period of World War II.

Whittington conducted regressions with various models, assuming different lag structures

and slightly different sets of independent variables. Under all specifications, they found that

personal exemption has a statistically significant positive effect on the US fertility rate.

                                              - 21 -
The Whittington model has served as the basis for many studies in this field,

including Park’s study discussed previously. Other studies that have incorporated this model

include Georgellis and Wall (1992) and Gohmann and Ohsfeldt (1994). Both studies found

that the marginal effect of the personal exemption decreases as the exemption amount

increases. This suggests that using pecuniary incentives to increase the fertility rates to

replacement levels may prove to be extremely costly. Zhang et al. (1994) and Huang (2002)

also used this model in their studies on Canada and Taiwan respectively.

       Whittington also conducted another study in 1992 examining the relationship between

the dependent exemption feature in the US federal income tax (a subsidy for dependents) and

the fertility behavior of married couples in America, between 1979 and 1983. While there are

reasons to believe that there were inaccuracies in the study (including the very short time

frame studied and the fact that subsidies for dependents do not directly imply a pro-natalist

shift in attitude), this study, using a quantitative approach, concluded that these tax

exemptions have a positive and significant impact on the likelihood of having a birth during

the period of study.

       A study done by Gauthier and Hatzius in 1997 took a quantitative approach when

assessing the effectiveness of policies on fertility rates. They rightly pointed out that many

studies done so far have been either based on public opinion surveys, qualitative analysis

based on a descriptive-intuitive approach, or qualitative approaches, based either on

aggregate or individual data. Gauthier and Hatzius decided to conduct a wide ranging panel

data econometric analysis across countries. They had as their dependent variable the TFR of

countries, and the following independent variables: male wages, female wages,

unemployment rate, and the variables of interest: cash benefits for bearing children and

maternity benefits (based on amount of maternity leave federally mandated and amount

                                            - 22 -
mothers get paid while on leave). The study found that the amount of maternity benefits has

insignificant effects on TFR, while that of cash benefits have positive and significant effects

on fertility.

        A paper by Cohen, Dehejia and Romanov (2007) studied empirically whether

government child subsidies affected fertility rates in Israel. They found that financial

incentives have a significant positive effect on fertility, but with greater positive effect

focused on lower income families, as expected. They concluded that fertility decisions

respond to financial incentives, and therefore child subsidy policies like the Baby Bonus

Scheme can have a significant positive influence on fertility rates. A point of interest about

this study is that the researchers had access to comprehensive, non-public individual level

panel data, allowing for a much closer examination of the effects on individual fertility

decisions of financial incentives. While access to such data is not possible for my study, this

study provides some insight into how best to approach the modeling of a regression analysis.

        A study by Preston and Hartnett (2008) investigated the major social and

demographic forces that influence American fertility levels, with the aim of predicting

changes in fertility levels in the coming decades. While this paper is not directly relevant to a

study of the impact of financial incentives on fertility decisions, the paper discusses some of

the independent variables which impact fertility rates that could be included in my analysis:

female wages, more widespread use of contraception, education levels and female labor force

participation. This paper concluded that the change in female wages and labor force

participation are among the greatest reasons for the changes in fertility rates in developed

countries. This view is echoed by a paper by Sacerdote and Feyrer (2008), which concluded

that the status of females in developed countries has a large impact on fertility rates. While

data on female wages and education levels are unavailable in my study, I will include female

                                             - 23 -
labor participation rate and GDP per capita as independent variables in my study to attempt

to incorporate the impact of the changing role of women in Singaporean society.

       A study done by Bachi in 1990 comprehensively detailed the reasons for decreasing

fertility rates in developed countries. Bachi stated that aside from decreasing infant mortality,

the major factors that cause a fall in fertility rates in developed countries are the decline in

marital fertility and the destabilization of the institution of marriage. Reasons for the

decreasing marital fertility include the rising monetary cost of raising a child due to higher

standards in quality of life and education expected, the detrimental effect that child bearing

and raising has on the careers of working women, the modern day emphasis on the pursuit of

personal fulfillment and the simultaneous weakening of the influence of traditional values on

fertility, as well as the reduced need to rely on children as economic insurance for parents in

their old age. This analysis will come in useful when I attempt to interpret and evaluate the

results of my empirical study.

       Worth noting as well are studies that span across more than one country: Winegarden

and Bracy (1995) used data from 17 OECD countries and Gauthier and Hatzius (1997) that

was reviewed earlier used data from 22 industrialized nations. While I considered conducting

a study spanning Singapore as well as other countries, I found data collection from other

countries difficult. In addition, Singapore is a fairly unique nation-state and comparisons with

other countries are unlikely to yield significant insight.

Theoretical Argument and Hypothesis

       Becker’s 1960 research paper will be the basis of my theoretical argument of children

as an economic good, as it is for many other papers in this field. As Becker expounded,

children can be perceived as durable, normal consumer goods, and parents the consumers of

                                              - 24 -
these normal goods. While it is arguable that children may turn out to be production goods if

the cost to parents of raising a child is less than the material returns to be gained when the

child matures, Becker argued that children typically grow up to be free agents that do not

necessarily contribute significantly in terms of monetary returns to parents in their later years.

Becker also demonstrated that the cost of raising a child has increased significantly with time,

and greatly outstrips the material returns to parents later, especially after taking into

consideration the time value of money. It is worth noting though that in the Confucian culture

that dominates Singapore, it is the social norm for children to take care of their parents in

their old age. It is thus more possible that children in a Singaporean context turn out to be a

production good. To simplify my analysis I shall however assume that children can be

primarily compared to durable consumer goods.

       For this economic analysis to carry weight, it has to be assumed that parents have

significant if not total control over whether they want to have a child or not. With greater use

of contraceptive methods and the decreasing taboo associated with abortions, this assumption

appears to be a fair one. That said there are couples who want to have children but face

significant difficulties doing so. We shall assume such couples to be the minority.

       Parents are generally speaking only concerned with the number of children who

survive, not the number of children who are born to them. As infant mortality rates fall,

parents have greater certainty regarding whether their child will survive; ceteris paribus, this

would mean a lower fertility rate. Whereas in the past parents may have more babies to guard

against the possibility of children not surviving infanthood, parents have to worry less about

infant mortality now.

       The use of basic utility theory, where consumption is determined by the intersection

of each family’s budget constraint and utility curve, will shed some insight on this economic

                                             - 25 -
analysis. Consider Figure 1. Let us assume that a child is a normal consumption good, and all

other goods can be bundled together. The shape of the utility curves (UC) would depend

mainly on the preferences of each couple. As Becker pointed out, the shape of the UC are

determined by the relative preference for children, which in turn are influenced by religion,

race, age and personal preferences, for example. We can assume that consumers are rational

and strive to attain a consumption point on the utility curve as far from the origin as possible.

Figure 1: Utility Theory Applied to Children as Economic Goods


                      UC 1 UC 2

               BC 2

               BC 1

                                                 Other Goods

       The budget constraint (BC) on the other hand is affected by a range of factors. For

simplicity we shall assume that the BC are all linear. First and foremost BC is affected by

income levels. Ceteris paribus, the higher income a household has, the further out the BC

will be from the origin and the higher utility the household can attain. The cost of raising a

child also has an impact on the BC. If raising a child becomes cheaper thanks to government

subsidies like the Baby Bonus Scheme, the effect is that the BC pivots upwards (from BC1 to

BC2), with the intersection on the “other goods” axis still the same but the intersection on the

“children” axis higher than before. Clearly, economic factors play a large part in this analysis.
                                             - 26 -
As described in the literature review, several papers focus on the impact of the

changing status and role of women on fertility rates. The main argument in those studies is

that as the status of women in society increases and women become more economically

independent, hold better paying jobs and have higher labor force participation rates, the

opportunity cost of having a child increases, since that would imply a loss of greater amounts

of potential income that could have been earned by the woman for the household, if she did

not have to go through pregnancy or raise the child. This implies that over time as more

women join the labor force and earn higher wages, the cost of raising a child increases.

Ceteris paribus, this would cause BC to pivot downwards (from BC2 to BC1), with the

intersection on the “other goods” axis still the same but the intersection on the “children”

axis lower than before.

       The number of children, if any, that a couple decides to raise depends on the point of

intersection between the budget constraint and the utility curve of the couple. The shape and

form of the BC and UC clearly varies from couple to couple; as mentioned, the economic

situation of a household affects the BC, and the UC of a couple varies based on personal

preferences. Some couples may enjoy having a larger family, raising a child or view having

children as contributing to their utility; others may view child raising as a nuisance and an

investment whose payoff does not cover the costs.

       It is difficult to capture and reflect the shifts in preferences of a single couple over

time, but at an aggregate level it is fair to assume that these stay fairly constant. My study

will focus instead on capturing changes in the budget constraints of couples in Singapore

across time at an aggregate level. Refer to segment titled “Framework and Approach” for

more details on the approach and specifics of my quantitative analysis.

                                            - 27 -
As discussed, what a program like the Baby Bonus Scheme does is to decrease the

cost associated with raising a child. I hypothesize however that the scheme will have limited

effect on fertility decisions. The magnitude of the subsidies entitled to parents under the

scheme, while generous, counts for only a very small portion of the costs of raising a child.

According to 2001 estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of raising a

child to age 18 in America (assuming he leaves the household at 18 as an independent, self-

sufficient adult) ranges from US$118,000 – 250,000. The maximum benefit that a parent can

get under the 2004 Baby Bonus Scheme is S$18,000 or approximately US$11,000.

       An overview of past studies seems to support my position. The majority of the studies

already done suggest that for developed countries, little or no impact on fertility decisions

can be made with monetary incentives. This is due in large part to the high opportunity cost

of raising children, especially for many of the well-educated working women who place

more value on their careers than less-educated women of developing countries. Many studies

conclude that the monetary cost of raising a child is significant in a developed society with

high living standards, and while financial incentives like the Baby Bonus scheme does allow

parents to reap significant monetary benefits, the monetary value attached to the scheme is

not nearly enough to compensate parents for the cost of raising a child. It has also been noted

in various studies that the marginal return of each dollar spent by governments on trying to

increase fertility rates decreases as more dollars are spent; this implies that it gets

exponentially more difficult to encourage parents to have more children.

       In addition, multiple factors other than monetary considerations can have an impact

on fertility decisions. While my study will attempt to control for some of these factors, many,

especially non-tangible factors such as culture and perception that affect the utility functions

of households, will inevitably not be captured in the analysis. There is also the issue of a

                                             - 28 -
possible significant time lag before the full effectiveness of the policy is revealed in changes

in fertility rates of the population.

        For these reasons I hypothesize that the Baby Bonus Scheme will have little if any

impact on fertility rates. That said several mitigating factors exist. While there are no official

estimates of what it costs to raise a child in Singapore, the absolute cost should be

significantly lower than that estimated by USDA for American families. It should also be

restated that in Singaporean culture children are expected to support their parents in their old

age; this implies that the future “cash inflow” of raising a child may be significant, and a

better comparison to the magnitude of monetary rewards under the scheme would be the net

present cost of raising a child. In addition, the scheme should help change the minds of some

couples at the margin who are indifferent about whether to have a child or not. Ceteris

paribus, any additional cash benefit will provide the push for these households to have

additional children. The absolute magnitude of cash benefits to parents under the Baby Bonus

Scheme (up to S$18,000) is also significant, when compared to GDP per capita (S$54,000 in

2004), especially for lower income families. The support that has been expressed for the

scheme by the general population also seems to bode well for its success.

Framework of Empirical Study and Data

        I base a great deal of my framework and approach on the theoretical argument laid

out above that was modified from Becker’s 1960 study, as well as on the 2005 study by Park,

who in turn was greatly influenced by Whittington’s 1990 study. I emulated Park’s approach

of dealing with the benefits accrued to each birth order separately, and included some of the

independent variables he utilized as part of his study. As noted however, because I have data

for annual births by birth order that Park did not have or utilize, I will conduct a quantitative

                                              - 29 -
analysis studying the specific impact of the Baby Bonus Scheme on fertility rates for each

birth order (first through fourth), as well as at an aggregate level.

       I will follow Park’s method of estimating the impact on fertility rates per dollar of

financial incentive that the Singapore government gives out as part of the Baby Bonus

Scheme. In addition to that, to provide a more comprehensive assessment of the effects, I will

also conduct regressions that utilize dummy variables, instead of variables indicating

monetary value, to indicate when the scheme benefits babies of a particular birth order.

       The dependent variable for my regressions will be the logarithm of total fertility rates

(TFR), both at an aggregate level as well as for each birth order. This I found by dividing the

live births per year, both at an aggregate level as well as for each birth order, by the number

of women in the population of child bearing age (15 – 44 years old is a commonly used norm

that I will adopt), then multiplying that number by 29 (the number of years between 15 to 44).

I then find the logarithm of these values. The dependent variables for logarithm of aggregate

level TFR and for first, second, third and fourth born fertility rates are variables log(Births),

log(Child1), log(Child2), log(Child3) and log(Child4) respectively.

       As the discussion in the previous section based on Becker’s model demonstrates,

wages and the broader economic climate are likely to have an impact on fertility decisions of

households, specifically on the budget constraint of households. My proxies to reflect

changes in wages and the economic climate of Singapore will be GDP per capita at 2000

prices and unemployment rates. My independent variable to represent the former will be

variable log(GDP), found by taking the logarithm of GDP at 2000 prices per resident

population. Annual unemployment rate will be incorporated in the study as variable Unemp.

       Using the model in the previous section, I also noted that infant mortality rates have

an impact on the number of live births expected as well. While infant mortality rates were

                                              - 30 -
fairly low to begin with in 1980 where my study starts (about 1 in every 100), rates have

fallen drastically since then, to about 1 in every 500 in 2007. It can be argued then that the

fall in fertility rates could be somewhat attributed to the decreasing infant mortality rates. I

therefore include this data in my study under variable Mort.

        As mentioned in the literature review, many papers on this topic have noted that a

major cause of changing fertility rates is the changing status of women in developed nations.

Singapore is no exception. This is a factor that Becker’s model did not take into

consideration. While it would have been ideal to include data on female wages across the

period of study in my empirical analysis, this data is unavailable. While not a perfect

indicator of the changing status of women in society and their increasing economic

independence, female labor force participation rate is data that I have access to that could

serve as a substitute statistic. I therefore include it in my analysis, as variable Fpart.

        As Park noted in his study, the year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac is

traditionally an auspicious year that tends to cause an increase in the number of births,

especially among the Chinese majority; I have therefore included the dummy variable

Dragon to signal when these years occur. In addition, Saw notes that the year of the Tiger in

the Chinese zodiac is traditionally an inauspicious year that tends to cause a decrease in the

number of births among the Chinese; I therefore also included the dummy variable Tiger to

signal when these years occur.

        Consider now the crucial variables of interest, those that relate to the Baby Bonus

Scheme. As mentioned, I will conduct regressions based both on dummy variables as well as

variables that indicate the monetary value accrued to parents under the scheme. The dummy

variable indicating when the Baby Bonus Scheme is in effect is variable BB, and dummy

                                               - 31 -
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